Maryland legislators considering chlorpyrifos ban
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A bill that would ban Maryland farmers from using chlorpyrifos and seeds treated with the insecticide would hamstring growers and make them less competitive than those in other states, agriculture advocates said last week.
Chlorpyrifos is an effective tool for producers from orchardists who use it to fight peach tree borers to vegetable farmers who use seeds treated with it to deter seedcorn maggots. A ban could reduce yields and lead to less robust and profitable crops, several farmers and industry representatives said.
“You only use it when you need it, but when you need it, you really need it,” said Lindsay Thompson, executive director of Maryland Grain Producers Association.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County, passed the House on March 15 and is under consideration in the Senate. The bill’s ban would begin Dec. 31, 2020, and the state agriculture department would be allowed to grant waivers to farmers unable to find an alternative through Dec. 31, 2022.
Stein could not be reached for comment.
Environmental groups have sought to ban chlorpyrifos in state legislatures across the country for several years. Oregon lawmakers are considering a similar ban this month, and California lawmakers are also discussing restrictions.
The insecticide has been banned from household use since 2000, and while it is still permitted on farms, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California began considering this month whether to uphold a ruling last year that the EPA must ban chlorpyrifos entirely.
EPA scientists proposed a chlorpyrifos ban in 2015, citing studies that said infants exposed to the insecticide showed slightly less brain function. That ban was reversed by the Trump administration.
Melvin Baile, a 57-year-old farmer who grows canning beans in New Windsor, Md., said he believes environmental groups are attacking the pesticide irrationally and citing studies that do not prove its danger to consumers. Many studies, he said, have found it to be safe. Baile protested the bill before a House committee earlier this year.
“It’s a strange society we live in because the emotionalism of the issue is driving the issue, not the science,” he said.
If he’s not allowed to use chlorpyrifos, seedcorn maggots could attack his crops, causing delayed emergence, reduced quality, and rejection from his buyer.
“The (plants) that have the delayed emergence, they won’t have beans that are large enough to make the grade,” he said. “What you harvest, they’re going to throw away.”
Consumers demand food without mold or pest damage but attack tools which make that possible, he said. If chlorpyrifos is banned, Baile said he could try using a neonicotinoid insecticide, but many state lawmakers would like to ban that as well.
“It’s a very confusing time to be a grower in the state of Maryland,” Baile said.
Kyle Hutchison, a 47-year-old pea farmer in Cordova, Md., also testified before the House on the bill. He said he uses seeds treated with chlorpyrifos at the request of the company for which he grows.
The seeds come in a bag, go into his planter and are immediately deposited in the soil. The insecticide protects the crop for the first two or three weeks of its life cycle and degrades without entering the plant, he said. The company he grows for also contracts with farmers in Delaware, he said.
“They can use it over there, so that’s an economic disadvantage for us at this point too,” Hutchison said.
Chlorpyrifos is also useful for soybean farmers fighting spider mites, and alternative treatments aren’t reliable, Thompson said. Representatives from the golf course and nursery communities have also protested the bill, she said.
The bill could have been voted on as soon as Friday, March 29, said Colby Ferguson, Maryland Farm Bureau director of government relations, though it was unclear whether it would find approval in a less heavily Democratic Senate.
“If it gets out of committee, it’ll get pretty tough to stop,” he said.